Thursday, February 3, 2011

Do I Really Need to Index the Officiant?

I have finally gotten back to indexing records for FamilySearch while watching television (instead of playing games on my phone). I've been working on the Elkhart County, Indiana Marriages and I am wondering if my indexing is discouraging people from finding the original records.

Indexing is supposed to make it easier for researchers to find the original documents. But when you index everything on a record, do people still want to view it? I know that great researchers want to see everything, but what about everyone else? If the image is attached to the index, then people will be more likely to view it. But what if they have to go searching for the document in microfilm or through a courthouse? If "everything" is in the index will they spend the time?

I love being about to search by parents' names and find my ancestors' siblings. I love finding their birth dates and places in the indexes to verify that I have the right person. But how much is too much in an index?

From the Indiana Marriage project: Does the index really need to include the name of the wedding officiant? It's great info to try to find a marriage record within church records, but does it need to be in the index? Should the index contain the number of previous marriages of each participant? Or should researchers use other information and the original record to find out about other marriages?

I know that some people will always only look at the index. But should FamilySearch be helping them out? Or should they limit the number of fields indexed? Another reason to limit the amount of information that needs indexing is that it would take less time to index and increase the number of records completed.

What do you think? Is this just me adding to the age old debate about indexing and original records or am I on to something?


  1. Tina,

    Interesting post. I have to admit that I hadn't really thought about why having Officiant indexed might be useful. But let me offer a possibility.

    When hitting brick walls or when better understanding an entire family is important, genealogists are increasingly advised to study the community of which a person or family is part. For census records, this would mean documenting those found a couple pages before and after the person(s) of interest.

    The Indiana marriage record index, if Officiant is captured, offers a similar opportunity. While not everyone that was married by an Officiant will be related, it is very possible that "communities" similar to those from the census could be identified.

    I don't mind at all indexing one more field if it might yield an opportunity for further analysis in the future.


  2. You raise some interesting points, Tina. I do think that the more information is included in the index the less likely people are to want to spend time tracking down the original and in most cases the name of the officiant is probably not particularly important.

    However, as a FamilySearch indexer who mostly indexes English parish registers I find myself more often frustrated by the opposite problem. That is, there's information I think is important, but there's no field in which to enter it. For example, this may be occupation or place of residence, which in a community with a small number of surnames may be the only way to distinguish between two individuals with the same name.

    I guess how important particular details are will vary from project to project and from record to record so there's probably no simple answer as to how much information should be included in an index.


  3. There will always be some that take an index as gospel, totally forgetting the fact that there may be errors in the index. More experienced researchers will use the index as a tool rather than a source and go to the original. They will want to verify for themselves that it holds the information found in the index and see if there is additional information not covered in the index.

    Personally, I wouldn't index the officiant. Unless a researcher knows the officiant's name and is actively seeking his records, it's unlikely to be used as a search term.

    As far as previous marriages, I'm on the fence. If I'm researching a common name and know that the person was married previously, adding that fact to the search can narrow my results substantially. On the other hand, if the person was married more times than I'm aware of, I may inadvertently exclude them from my search by adding number of previous marriages to my query.

  4. I echo John's comments. I use cluster genealogy often when dealing with large families, common names, brick walls - sometimes just because it's interesting. I have scrolled through film noting every couple married by the Baptist clergyman in a community more times than I can count. Indexing the officiant would be a boon.

  5. The officiant will probably be someone's ancestor, and having that information indexed would certainly be helpful for any researching the officiant.

    As someone who undertakes one-place-studies, it drives me crazy when I encounter really useful databases that aren't indexed or searchable by all the place names mentioned in the underlying records - it means the index is useless to me, even though I know there will be underlying records that I would love to see if only I knew they were there!

  6. While I cannot address indexing per se, the "officiant" was a huge clue that allowed me to break through the brick wall. I had been looking through the wrong church/ wrong denomination records (family lore was incorrect). The "Minister of the Gospel" (with no church or denomination shown) on the Wedding Certificate pointed to a new direction, and to happy discoveries.